A quarter-century ago, the university founded the Georgetown University Women’s Center in a converted Leavey Center storage closet with the goal of providing “a safe environment while respecting all facets of women’s abilities, spirituality and differences,” according to its mission statement.
This October marked the 25th anniversary of the GUWC, which has provided resources and a platform for dialogue on female education and empowerment to the community since its inception.
The GUWC celebrated its anniversary with a reception at the Healey Family Student Center yesterday, where the center announced the creation of the Biondi Copeland Family Lecture Series, a set of discussions on women in higher education.
The lecture series was created through an unspecified donation by Gianna Biondi (CAS ’85) and John Copeland (CAS ’84). Biondi and Copeland also established the center’s Biondi Copeland Family Fund in 2014, which has contributed to the center’s programming and initiatives.
“This series will allow us to provide visibility for women presidents, provosts, faculty and student affairs professionals to share their stories and to work with our students and our community,” Director of the Women’s Center Laura Kovach said.
University President John J. DeGioia praised the GUWC for its contributions to female students and faculty at Georgetown over the past quarter-century.
“For 25 years, the Women’s Center has helped to celebrate and empower women on the Hilltop. Our office is deeply grateful to Laura and all of the staff at the Center for the work that they do every day to support our community,” DeGioia wrote in a statement to The Hoya.
The GUWC was founded in 1990, 21 years after the College began accepting female students. Since then, the center has provided resources, referrals and materials for female students and faculty on women’s health and wellness, sexual health, gender-based violence and various other topics. The center hires student employees to help with its operations.
The center has also created numerous initiatives including the Women Advancing Gender Equity fellowship, university-wide program on sexual assault dialogue “Are You Ready?” and yearly programming during Women’s History Month in March. WAGE fellows participate in training and leadership development on issues related to gender equity.
Since its founding in 2008, the WAGE program has seen more than 50 participants and has sent dozens of students to the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, a national forum for college-age female leaders. Last March, the GUWC hosted two women’s leadership retreats at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar.
SFS-Q established a sister women’s center in 2010 to mark the 20th anniversary of the GUWC, which provides resource and programming to the SFS-Q campus. According to Kovach, the creation of the GU-Q Women’s Center was one of GUWC’s most significant accomplishments.
“The center is doing amazing things and we have partnered on an annual women’s leadership retreat and other programming throughout the year,” Kovach said.
In recent years, the center has increased its work with Georgetown alumni, such as Biondi and Copeland, who have made donations to the center and spoke at its events.
According to Kovach, the increased funding has helped the center sustain and expand its educational and programming opportunities for students.
“We are able to send students to conferences, fully fund our WAGE program, host panels like ‘Women, Faith and Leadership,’ provide resources for a women’s retreat at our SFS-Q campus and bring great programs to campus like Elect Her,” Kovach wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The GUWC also plans to host its first main campus women’s leadership retreat next November with support from campus ministry.
Director of the LGBTQ Center Shiva Subbaraman addressed challenges that the GUWC may face as student identities and needs evolve. The GUWC often collaborates with campus groups such as the LGBTQ Center and the Cawley Career Education Center,
“I think one of the struggles of the women’s center has been how to reinvent itself for the 21st century, when so many women students on this campus think they do not need the women’s center anymore,” Subbaraman said. “The ones who feel they need the center are the ones who either run into issues or challenges, or those who understand where institutionally they still do not have a voice.”
Mary Rogers (COL ’16), an undergraduate assistant at the GUWC, said that the center remains an integral part of campus culture.
“I think having a physical women’s center is part of the idea that there is a space for women [on campus],” Rogers said. “People are under the impression that the women’s movement has already occurred and we don’t need a women’s center anymore. … But I would say that the work is never done.”
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jeanne Lord, who initially served as an advisory board member of the center, said the center plays an important part in Georgetown’s culture. Lord is currently a supervisor of the center.
“The center has grown and evolved in response to the changing needs of women on our campus and in the world, but has always been an important resource for all Georgetown women,” Lord wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The center is rooted in our Jesuit and Catholic mission, so cura personalis, or care for the whole person, mind, body and spirit, is a foundational value.”
For the center’s future, Kovach said that they will continue to expand their initiatives in order to further engage the community.
“As we look ahead, we hope to continue our efforts to institutionalize all of our programs, increase our staffing resources and be that place for students to find engagement and education on important issues at Georgetown,” Kovach said. “It’s how we honor the students, faculty and staff who came before us.”
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